Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ten Curses For Magic Items

The Hope Diamond
Over on Tenkar's Tavern, one of the commenters to a post on magic items noted:

[I]n my games… Magic swords are always intelligent, always have additional powers, always aligned, and always have Ego.

Other magic items are always cursed. They can still be used, but there's always some danger or drawback associated with them. I try not to let them feel "reliable".

I think that's an excellent idea. Magic items in stories are frequently mixed blessings at best, and this would be a good way to present that. I do think that there should be some exceptions, such as the gifts of the elves, but the idea of an item that gives a benefit but takes a toll seems quite sound to me as a way to keep the players from becoming overly powerful too quickly, to prevent the issues of "predicted power level" that recent editions of D&D have fallen prey to, and to keep magic items mysterious and full of wonder. So, here's a short list of possible minor curses that can be added to magic items:

  1. The person who carries this item has a strong scent, allowing those who track by scent to follow the path unerringly, and causing a 1 or 2 point penalty to reaction rolls in social situations.
  2. The owner suffers a 1 point penalty to all rolls related to one of: combat (excluding damage), reaction rolls, saving throws, other. If the owner tries to get rid of the item, it will mysteriously reappear on his person unless he can get another person to voluntarily take it from him.
  3. If exposed to disease, the possessor of this item has double the normal chance of contracting the disease.
  4. Unintelligent carnivores will always attack the possessor of the item, no reaction roll required. (Or, the reaction roll can be at a penalty if the Referee prefers.)
  5. 10% of any money acquired by the possessor of this item vanishes without trace. If the possessor tries to get rid of the item, it will reappear as in curse #2.
  6. The person who carries this item cannot move faster than half speed. This affects both base movement rate and movement rate modified by armor or encumbrance.
  7. If given a choice of targets, undead will choose the bearer of this item over other possibilities.
  8. Followers of anyone who has used this item in the last 30 days halve their natural loyalty value. After 30 days of not using the item, loyalty returns to normal.
  9. The possessor of the item becomes addicted to it. If it is not used in a 24 hour period, the possessor takes 1 hit point of damage. Withdrawal requires not using the item, and making a saving throw against paralyzation or poison each day for 6 consecutive days. Failing a saving throw requires starting over from zero. Hit point loss continues to occur until the addiction is broken.
  10. The item has an alignment, Ego, and purpose just as a magic sword.

There are certainly many more possibilities. If you have some, please share them in the comments, or make a post on the subject yourself. If you do, please come back here and let me know where the post is.


  1. 11. Anyone who uses the item gains no (or half) experience points for foes defeated in the encounter/session. A mean, cruel, nasty Referee can extend this to all of the allies of the user. Experience from treasure acquired is unaffected.

    1. Items of this sort may have been made by members of a pacifist religious group.

  2. 12. If the owner ever loses possession of this item, his Constitution will be reduced by 1, permanently, for every month he owned it, to a minimum of half of his originally rolled Constitution score (before increases due to magic or other causes). Recovering the item will restore the lost Constitution points for as long as the item is retained.

    (This is actually a pretty major curse, but since it has no effect while the item is possessed, I think that it fits the idea.)

  3. 1) each use of the item has a 2% cumulative chance of inflicting the user with a Geas to carry out some purpose aligned with the item and/or it's creator(s).

    Might be interesting especially if the geas is terribly dated, for instance return a treasure to a temple where neither the treasure nor temple exist any longer.

    2) empowering the item requires some form of sacrifice to it, perhaps innocuous, perhaps onerous one (e.g. Torg's "Unholy Evil Death Bringer" sword)